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Investment Advisor Alleges MS Financial Fraud284

Bill Parish, of investment management firm Parish & Company, claims Microsoft's stock prices may be artifically inflated, and that MS may actually be losing money instead of generating huge profits. Parish says you haven't heard his claims before because "...Microsoft is a significant advertiser in the major media [and] it has been hard to get exposure there." Slashdot offers no opinion one way or the other on the acccuracy of Mr. Parish's allegations. Please read his report and decide for yourself.
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Investment Advisor Alleges MS Financial Fraud

• Re:Why pander to blithering idiots? (Score:1)

If someone is so stupid that they are incapable of understanding

[easy stuff omitted]

I feel no need to be sensitive to their needs.

People that choose to be this ignorant have no place investing in the stock market.

• Long term government bonds, or
• Index funds

both of which are more suited to the action of those that wish to remain blithering idiots.

Well, I agree that people who don't understand the basics of investing get what they deserve to some extent; it certainly would be implausible that they understand the risks involved, for example.

But the idea that index funds are only suited for idiots is just, um, stupid. If you wanted to buy stocks and I told you that I had a mutual fund that out-performs more than 2/3 of all funds on a year-to-year basis and outperforms almost every mutual fund in the long-term, you would probably be interested. If I told you that, in addition, you wouldn't end up paying cap gains taxes when all you did was buy and hold the fund, you should be even more interested.

And this magic fund is, of course, the cheapest index fund in the sector of your choice, or just the S&P500 index if you really don't want to be burdened with the choice. And, for heaven's sake, the idea that index funds, just because they don't require lots of effort or knowledge, are somehow only for stupid people is just silly.

It's not that you couldn't do better picking your own stocks, but you would be accepting more risk in doing so, and that's not always appropriate, no matter how smart or stupid you are.

• Fluff (Score:1)

This is a bunch of fluff. Basic math? Try first year accounting. This guy obviously doesn't understand GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), which the SEC requires all publicly traded companies adhere to (not to mention the IRS). That's the whole point of having audited financial statements. This guy has received far more attention than he should have. He's a crackpot.
• MS asking investors to petition Congress... (Score:1)

Related perhaps? It seems to be relevant to the MS and DOJ trial, but if it means changing securites rules too...

• Re:Not really... (Score:2)

Maybe the guy has a point in that the gullible public should be made more aware of the problem (and I freely concede that this *is* a problem: only not limited to Microsoft, not having such huge importance, and not likely to lead to the financial meltdown of the free world). But financial professionals know the situation quite well. And the measures that he proposes against Microsoft are quite ridiculous.

I disagree, mainly for the large amounts of cash involved. M$had basically lied, saying they are making 30-50% profit margins when they are not. This keeps raising their stock price (and get's them into indexes and 401k) to a level where they recieve a constant demand. The problem is the value behind the company. Everybody here knows that the only value that M$ has in on paper. Paper that says you can't copy their software, paper that says you must buy a license for every 5 users, etc. They have "nothing" of real value. Take this paper away (or reveal how transparent it is) and you realize that the highest valued company in the world HAS NOTHING OF VALUE. Then you factor in the large number of people whose retirement is tied to that value, and you see the scope of the problem.

Their accounting practices also make themselves look better than other companies and then when John Q. looks at who to invest in, he picks M$. Thus IBM, HP and others, whose accounting is honest, look like crap and they must use the same dishonest technique to create a competitively profitable image. M$ is the image making machine, they have created a huge image of a profitable company that is made out of paper and burning away from the inside.

• Re:Rule changes likely in the UK (Score:1)

A news item this morning (R4 Today programme) described some government moves to make stock options MORE popular as a means of rewarding employees, with particular reference to hitech startups.

I wonder if it's coincidental that it follows Mr. Tony's recent heart-to-heart with Bill Gates ?
• Re:Not really... (Score:1)

One debate class too many? I think he was providing a hypothetical psychological explanation for this guy's paranoia. Just because the guy reiterated a point doesn't necessary mean that he actually believes that point. He could be emphasizing it to make himself sound more credible. Funny that you should notice one tactic of argument and ignore another...
• Re:Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway (Score:1)

"the ideal amount of time to hold a stock for is forever".

Well, if only I can be like Mr. Buffet, buying a large chunk of stock of ABC Inc. and sit in the board room and instruct the company buy supplies from Corp. XYZ (incidentally, Mr. Buffet also has a few shares in it).

I am just pointing out the limitation of the theory of "hold on forever".

Winning = Fundemental + Technical.

• My letter of complaint... (Score:1)

Subject: Your FUD campaign against Microsoft

Your so called 'report' available at http://www.billparish.com/msftfraudfacts.html is obviously reaching to pull down Microsoft and boost your own business.
I think your report is biased on your efforts to bring attention to yourself without ANY backing.

You make NO references to any hard data or reports. This discredits you and your report entirely.

You are manipulating the internet as media in the same way you accuse microsoft of locking you out of successfully reporting. I believe the media thinks you're full out of it and that's why you haven't managed any access to it.

I believe your report unwisely introduces Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt within the internet comunity, aimed at tearing down Microsoft's stock value.

Disgusted,
Louis Florit "got Be?"
Miami, Florida
• Ditto. (Score:2)

Seems quite plausible to me. This fellow is clearly a geek- so caught up in his theories that he barely notices anything else. He can barely write, and shows a curious emotional detachment and perseverativeness similar to certain Usenet posters. He is not coming off like a serious challenge- he seems like a flake, largely due to his writing style.
And yet... the man talks like an insider. I don't see anyone challenging his facts, and they're all over the article- stuff like this:
First of all, Microsoft makes a $250 million investment in WebMD for an 11 percent equity stake and part of the deal is that WebMD commits to$100 million of advertising on MSN network. At the same time, Microsoft agrees to subsidize an equal amount in medical prescriptions for people using WebMD. Of course there are a few other interesting aspects of this transaction, of which I won't address in this report. You have basically bartered a purely paper transaction and current accounting rules will allow you to recognize the entire $100 million as revenues for MSN network, even though you are just "trading checks." This stuff is _all_ _over_ the article. Being sort of obsessional is normal for an accountant... and in this case the obsessionalness has produced a guy who singlemindedly tracked down seemingly everything Microsoft is doing, without even understanding what he was dealing with. He seems to think that he could expose their total fraud and everybody would go, "Oh! Gee, OK, let's stop doing that, we were wrong!". Stupid- but I don't see how that challenges his assertions, it only challenges his media savvy and understanding of human beings (which I can sympathize with). But this story isn't _about_ human beings, except in that they try to justify themselves- it's about obscure accounting cheats and tricky ways of committing fraud. In that area, this peculiar fellow has convinced me he knows what he's talking about- indeed, it's _all_ he knows- and I share his conclusion- Microsoft is built on accounting fraud, and as it takes over the entire economy (illustrated by its addition to Dow Jones- this fellow doesn't even get into the problems of having _any_ huge stock included on all main indicators- currently, when MS crashes _everything_ will go down, NASDAQ, Dow, you name it...), it poses a risk directly comparable to what happened to the Japanese economy. This is serious stuff, even if it's being hyped by a peculiar fellow who doesn't understand the need to downplay his self-aggrandizement (probably doesn't even understand that's what he's doing, if I read his character correctly). Try and focus on his conclusions (when they don't consist of 'Appoint me to your 401K committee!') because there is a great deal that should be listened to here. • Re:Not really... (Score:1) Companies CAN do this, but they aren't required to do so. Its usually done as a convience to the employee. Anyone that exercises stock options can take the stock if they want and run. • Re:Speculative Indeed (Score:1) Since it isn't a Microsoft-only practice, and since it seems to be a rather widespread practice, maybe you better buy a bigger mattress to stuff those retirement dollars into instead.'' I agree that it's a widespread practice. That's probably why the FASB's proposed change to accounting for stock options was so heavily opposed by corporations. Just because it's widespread'' doesn't make it the correct way of doing business. I doubt that many CEOs and other high-ranking corporate officers would have been happy to see these stock options count against corporate earnings, possibly driving down the company's stock price, and directly impacting the value of their (paper) worth. Did I sound like I was over-reacting? I'm just someone who realizes that the way things are going in this country, I may never be able to take retirement the way my parents did (not that I'm looking forward to many years of sitting on my duff -- I'd go stir crazy!), and I do plan on keeping close track of how my retirement money is invested. Many people do the same thing to make sure that it's not invested in some company or country's currency that doesn't pass their particular brand of political correctness. Are they over-reacting? (OK, maybe -- some of these folks get a little extreme.) I think that watching out for investments that could fall flat on their face is a prudent activity. Is that over-reacting? The fear of this accounting practice may be the financial scare du jour and will probably blow over soon. Let's hope so, eh? As for the Parrish study being anti-Microsoft: I never read that into it (though others might). I think the study was opposed to the specific accounting practice that Parrish believes is not much more than smoke and mirrors. Microsoft's having such a huge capitalization (and with so many people dependent on its stock value) is, perhaps, the best or, at least one of the most visible, examples of a company that uses this accounting practice. • That's what the article.. (Score:2) ..outlines and says how they have been doing each thing. • Re:DJIA (Score:1) • It makes you wonder about MS's inclusion in the DJIA. I've been wondering about that too. Everyone, including recent comments from none other than Ballmer himself, seem to believe [northernlight.com] that Tech stocks (including Microsoft) are overvalued. Greenspan said something awhile back abound overexhuberance in Tech stocks, too. Both Ballmer's and Greenspan's comments caused a momentary dip in Tech stocks, but they picked right back up in a week or so. The market Analysts seem to be in la-la land. I can't find the reference now, but I saw a bizaare Analyst Opinion rating MS a 'strong Buy' because Windows 2000 finally had a ship date of Feb, 2000 and traditionally MS has done well in the months leading up to a ship date. Sheesh... Whatever happened to The Random Walk? Whatever happened to analysis? Almost everybody in the Technology Press and Industry seem to believe that MS faces tough new competition in the form of (no particular order): Linux, Sun/StarOffice, Java apps, and Apple. Also, almost everyone seems to believe that the anti-trust finding of fact will go against MS, but the stock just keeps climbing and climbing. Any sensible person would expect SOME kind of correction in MSFT soon. Even Ballmer warns that it's overvalued, along eith the other tech stocks. I have heard the opinion that the broad market has not been doing so well as the Blue Chips. And that this has led to a false sense of security. When people see the DJIA climbing beyond all sense, they think the economy is doing better than it actually is. It's almost like some Wall Street cabal feels there's no way to restore sanity to this market except to put MSFT on the DJIA before MSFT takes a big fall. Intel was also added to the DJIA at the same time MSFT was. A lot of people seem to believe there's soft demand for processors coming up and it appears that Intel has stronger-than-expected competition from AMD. This would seem to be another choice to weigh down the DJIA. Maybe I'm paranoid. The above is pure opinion based on analysis. I have no inside information from Intel or MSFT. • What Bullshit (Score:1) >Slashdot offers no opinion one way or the other >on the acccuracy of Mr.Parish's allegations Sure, the fact that its not beating down Microsoft with its righteous opensource/linux bat, Roblimo and the gang won't offer and commentary or quips. Like I've said before, /. has gotten to the point of where its not "News" at all, its biased, unobjective fodder for the linux zealot. • Forever is a long time (Score:2) Perhaps it would be better to use the phrase on into the indefinite future rather than forever, as that admits that there is uncertainty in the future. Two very valid (and relevant) points that come out of Buffet's strategy include that: • If you have an investment that you approve of enough that you consider it worth buying, then it should be worth holding on to. • Churning stock in and out of a portfolio on a daily basis makes the broker rich from brokerage commissions. That doesn't make the stockholder rich... The "split" issue appears to me to be a pretty irrelevant matter in this; the contention that splits result in people overvaluing stock seems to me to be irrational. I don't particularly care what the stock price is, or how many shares I have; what I care about is the multiple, namely How much my holdings are worth. As far as I'm concerned, a split should only affect the value of my holdings if there are a lot of people that don't understand basic arithmetic ( e.g. - multiplication) and who are incapable of coping with the simple equation: Value = Price * Quantity • Re:Not really... (Score:2) Funny that you should notice one tactic of argument and ignore another... Because it was blatant and well addressed in the actual article. Kaa's statments basically call the guy a liar to his face since he (parish) repeatedly said in the article that he was not biased for or against M$ in any way and even lauded thier office products while belittling the POS that is Win98.

Gawd, I wish there was a way to tell which posters read the article. This one was particularly long, the Linux comments don't come till near the end, for those of you that just scanned the first 5 pages.
• Stands to Make a Lot Of Money (Score:1)

My biggest complaint about the article, or rather the author, is his self-serving attitude. Statements like, "I'm the only one with the real story," and "Put *ME* on your inventment board," and "Hire *ME* as your keynote speaker" make me think he's more interested in advancing his own fortunes, rather than halting a truly dangerous situatiion...
• Re:This reads like a paranoid rant (Score:1)

Right you are!

Parrish's web page did have way too much of "I did this" and "I found that" and "but nobody believes me" in it to not sound loony (for my taste anyway), but he seems to be a professional speaking about his own field of experience, AND some of his criticisms of company accounting principles fall squarely into the middle of current hot debates.

I was mostly iritated by the strange way the article was written with little or no hard facts to back it up, and conclusions before the 'facts', which in turn preceeded basics. I kept looking for the meat to make up my own mind and barely found any.
That's when my mind starts screaming CRACKPOT.

Still, it was interesting reading. I think the sheer size of Microsoft should finally convince them to start acting as responsibly as any other very large company rather than a tech startup.
• Re:Not really... (Score:1)

King Babar wrote: Now, what would be a concern is if Microsoft was so dependent on this tactic that they felt the need to do any of the following things:
Issue an ever increasing number of options, with the possibility of accelerating dilution or having those options appear less attractive as inducements to sign up with the company.
Manipulate earnings so that the stock price continues to grow as steady-as-she-goes, so that the options ploy will always work.
Manipulate the stock price itself, so that the options are always exercised and the expense of employee compensation is kept low (or even lowered further)

Well, forgive me for being a little puzzled here, but I was under the impression that this was what they were doing.

I think this might be what some people have accused them of doing, but, so far, the evidence is hardly overwhelming. I certainly didn't see any direct evidence cited in the Parish report. If you want to find holes to poke in the idea that Microsoft is the best company to invest in at the moment, you can find them without assuming that the company is engaging in some nutty fraudulent activity that would lead to financial armageddon when it becomes unraveled.

That said, it is clear that if MSFT ever did suffer from an earnings growth hiccup, the consequences could be pretty severe in the current investment environment.

• Re:Food for thought (Score:1)

most systems involved in actual trade flow are unix based.''

That's my experience as well. In fact, we had a storeroom with one wall full of spare HP/UX workstations in case there was a hardware problem with one of the systems on the bond trading floor.

One of my co-workers came from a trading firm that lived and died by its Sun workstations. Another former co-worker went to another trading outfit that was running UNIX on all of its trading systems.

• OK... (Score:1)

Jeez, next thing you now he's going to go after Amazon.com for never turning a profit despite WAY inflated stock prices.
:P

Pope
• Agreed (Score:2)

Absolutely. The trouble is, this is really stupid :)
You're absolutely right that small business suffers- not just small business- no matter _who_ you are, you had better be able to spin a line of hype and vapor because 'sound expansion' IS NOT ENOUGH. It used to be a _good_ thing to focus on building businesses and providing value and a going concern that could build on successes and expand to handle more customers well. Now that is actually a bad thing, because the goal has become cashing out and building vapor-business bubbles that are too good to be true- and aren't.
Our friend the peculiar accountant has a number of things right, and one of them is the bad effect of this sort of thing. Good companies with honest practices and sustainable expansion are choked off by vapor businesses growing like kudzu vines. In an era where the best way to earn money is to set up a pyramid scheme of options and tax dodges, and where the best way to do business is to outspend and choke your competitors and constantly lie and deceive with vapor and false promises and then make sure you can't be held legally accountable for the fact that you're selling crap products and trying to prevent anyone else from competing with you, is 'The Internet Age' really the right term? Wouldn't 'The Stupid Age' be more apt?

Some other financial schenanigans and giggery pokery is explained here:
http://users.netmatters.co.uk//startingout/xat/ind ex.html

I'm really not surprised. Several companies have artifically hyper-infloated values even though their business acumen has led the companies to constantly incur losses, especially in the case of certain Internet stocks like Amazon.com -- who have lost money every year it has been running, but yet still has a worth of more than $100/share. It seems to be the condition that the stock market hopes to inflate the prices of these stocks because they are being hyped so much by the media without the realization that some of them will never make a profit. Microsoft is no exception. People see it as a "safe" tech stock without taking into consideration factors in the industry that are costing MS money and probably driving profits below zero. It's almost like they are determined to bne ignorant of tech stocks. • Scared for his life. (Score:2) The author of the above article is scared. It takes some serious balls to call the richest man in the world a thief and a liar. If you read the whole story (and I suggest you do, if this gets large-scale media attention it could be big) he gets more personal at the end. Mainly the guy has tried for some time to get this story out. No one seems to be refuting it, all of the attacks on the story seem to be directed at the man, not his facts. Perhaps that is why he is so scared. So now he is putting his own name on, he's got a big whistle and he's blowing it. It mentions in the article that M$'s accountant did the same thing in '96 and got fired for it. He's sending it to everybody. Action has already been taken from PRNewswire (against him). He sounds committed and it often takes serious resolve to change entrenched assumptions. More power too him, I'm gonna send this article to my friends and ask that they do the same. Each may do his part to slay the evil behemoth, if they feel it should die.

It's a slow news day, lets see if we can get this story on CNN tonight. Turn the public's interest and awareness of Microsoft against them. Anybody know (or is) a reporter?

I am an accounting professor and I teach employee stock options to my financial reporting class. This arguement is silly. Although Microsoft's employee stock options have a value of about $65 billion (# options outstanding * (stock price - strike price))the accounting this guy is proposing doesn't make any sence. If Microsoft was going to account for the increase in the value of the employee stock option liability as an expense then they would also have to account for the increase in the value of their assets as revenue. That is mark to market accounting. If Microsoft accounted for things this way then it's net income would be the change in the market value of the firm over the year or about$200 Billion. Not -$10 billion. This guy has no evidence for the stock market being fooled by footnote disclosure. Lots of people belive that to be true but there isn't any scientific evidence. At leat as scientific as The Accounting Review, The Jurnal of Accounting Research, and The Journal of Accounting and Economics get. • Re:Grab for attention? (Score:2) The peculiar thing about this is the double standard. There are many people who totally mock and scorn the concept of OSS because to simply donate effort and time to a thing, without expecting compensation, is considered at best stupid, and at worst positively evil and sinful (a point of view that always startles me. Helping others is _bad_?) Yet here we have someone who's weird but sincere, and is also doing what he can like a good little capitalist to increase his wealth and power of influence. _Why_ does this all of a sudden become a fatal PR blunder? I could see OSS-fiends becoming very critical, but what on earth is causing so many people to jump on this point? He's trying to sell himself and his judgement. Isn't that what you're _supposed_ to do? Are you suggesting that he should be doing all this thinking and scheming and writing for _charity_? ;) • Re:FASB Disagreements (Score:1) Personally, I think the problem is with accounting theory. Options are the large business equivalent of "Work for me for five years and I'll make you partner." FASB might be able to deal with it, but the IRS won't buy it and there is a big tax effect here. To my mind, the best approach is to forbid direct company-to-employee option grants. Require the company to buy the option on the open market and tax the recipient for this largess. Using Buffett's logic, the option value should be taxed at the time of offer, shouldn't it? >>If options aren't compensation, what are they? Equity redistribution. Of course they are compensation, but there is nothing in our accounting theory that allows options to be treated as compensation. Conditional promises have always caused problems for American financial accounting and I'm not sure that any solution that doesn't give us a third party intermediary will ever solve the problem. >>If compensation isn't an expense, what is it? Equity redistribution. I don't disagree with the FASB's original proposal, but they did a lousy job of selling it and the original proposal failed to fit into any accounting theory. I realize that a lot of accounting decisions are very pragmatic, but this one wasn't good enough to fly. >>And if an expense doesn't belong in the P&L, where in heaven's name does it belong? Balance Sheet. The solution is terrible, but it is better than the prior solution which required no disclosure. One of the biggest problems with the shadow option price that had been proposed by the FASB is that it still didn't deal with the fact that the options were speculative until exercised because the company retained all the risk. Market-purchased options solve the objections of the companies, fully fund the options, and give fixed costs to the options. • Stock Splits (Score:3) on Monday November 01, 1999 @03:33AM (#1572694) 3) Prohibit Microsoft from buying back its own stock, instituting stock splits or selling put contracts and engaging in other hedging activity for 10 years. These are tricks used to manipulate the stock price and have contributed greatly to building the financial pyramid. It might make sense to outlaw this practice all together. Both stock buybacks and stock splits have long been considered legitimate tools for a company to use to keep stock value up for shareholders. Now the author wants to outlaw both. When successful stocks don't split, they can become unobtainable to small investors. Witness Berkshire Hathaway - the Class A stocks would require a home mortgage to purchase 1 share. I'm not sure how much of what the author is saying is true and illegal, but his solutions are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Aramoro • There's something you don't see everyday... (Score:1) Slashdot defending Micros~1, who'da thunk it? `8r) It's good to see so many people being impartial about the target. -- Gonzo Granzeau • DJIA (Score:1) It makes you wonder about MS's inclusion in the DJIA. These allegations are broader than those in the Michael Martinez case, but they fall into the same overall pattern. When MS's bubble bursts, it could cause a stampede effect among the investors who think the DJIA actually means something. • No, Index Funds aren't dumb. (Score:2) I once got paid to do finance theory research work, working on code that compared Black/Scholes calculations with the results of computations coming from a similar calculation using discrete steps. I presently have about$10K invested in index funds. It would be pretty silly for me to imply that index funds are only for stupid people, and that's certainly not what I said.

Index funds most certainly are decent investments for diversifying away risk; those that invested in index have often done better over the last couple of years than those investing in other forms of mutual funds.

The point was that those that don't have the basic knowledge ( e.g. - to know that Value = Quantity * Price ) to invest in stocks with a faint bit of intelligence should put their money into investments that don't require that attention.

We've got people who haven't the rationality to evalate what they're doing deciding that they can become "Day Traders" at E-Trade and AmeriTrade. I don't oppose people buying some stock; that's liable to be educational and diversify ownership. But naive new investors certainly shouldn't jump into the shark-tank of daytrading. That's a really dumb move.

• Slashdot is scared of M$too (Score:1) Slashdot offers no opinion one way or the other on the acccuracy of Mr. Parish's allegations. Usually the folks at Slashdot offer some sort of comment or opinion about the subject because, after all, we all DO have an opinion. Why no quirky remark about this? Is it because we are afraid that an M$ lawyer will read and sue us for twice of what we DON'T have?

Does this mean I cannot post any comments about Microsoft, and that I must be afraid of them also?

This kind of censorship only validates Microsoft's monopoly. We are scared.

NOTE to M$Lawyers: The opinions expressed in the preceding post are those of the Author and do not necessarily affect those of Slashdot or Andover.Net. • not great work- but some valid complaints (Score:2) Looking over this article I'm not greatly impressed. Stock values and gaining/losing money are just too hard to gauge without an extremely rigorous model, and this guy hasn't impressed me, or mentioned much I hadn't already heard about. Many very intelligent people have serious arguments about the financial health of entire countries like China, and no one really has "the answer." But I DO know from personal experience that his complaint about the media is definately true- it's kind of sad too. It's not so much that Microsoft is a major advertiser, but rather that the econ/financial divisions of most major media outlets have lately been unapologetic "rah-rah" guys for the stock market in general, and put far too much faith in it reflecting actual economic value. It's not a conspiracy, it's just that most of these reporters are heavily invested, both personally and financially, in the very markets they review, they see everything getting better and better, and get irritated with people trying to point out dangerous bubbles or potential instability. They also don't believe that rich people would EVER be duplictitious. Oh well, the future is a crap shoot- maybe they're right. (but hey- they're not :) ) • Lack of Basic Math on Splits (Score:2) The nature of buybacks is somewhat questionable; it most certainly amounts to a manipulation of securities pricing. On the other hand, the complaint about stock splits seems to me to be devoid of real validity. The critical equation in dealing with portfolio valuation is: Value = Price * Quantity The average split results in multiplying quantity by some factor; while we might quibble over the "strong form" of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, markets certainly appear to have been reasonably efficient at recognizing that when the number of shares gets multiplied that price needs to be correspondingly divided. Remember that the number of shares that are outstanding are an artificial construct; the number of shares issued is arbitrary. • Re:FUD as weapon against MS? (Score:1) What about dear old Apple, with their "Desktop supercomputer" (at a screaming 450mhz, heh). They've been resonsible for the odd bit of.. well, FUD. Also, as much as I hate to say it, some of the more linux advopuppies have, too, on occasions. This is a shame, since it just erodes the credibility of those honest folks who have something valid to say. Let's not sink to their level, eh? • Does it matter... (Score:1) ...what the truth is? The impact will be much more important than the reality. If investors believe Microsoft is loosing money fast, they'll pull out. Nobody'll want to be caught holding M/S stock, if it's just about to plummet. On the other hand, if investors don't believe a word of this report, they'll keep their money in M/S stock, even if it's bleeding all over the floor. In the financial world, perception is EVERYTHING, and Microsoft's fortunes in the last part of this year will hinge heavily on how they are perceived as doing. Nobody who matters in this really cares how they =are= doing - what they see is all. • Re:Economist: Fraudulent Fraud Claim (Score:2) >That much is obvious, but isn't it also obvious >why this course of action would affect the price >of each share, and specifically the shares that >were owned before the dilution? I mean, assuming >that people were assigning a value to these >shares in terms of the value of future dividends >or earnings in some way. I would expect it to be included, yes. I'd expect the information to be reflected in the market price (it only takes one person with significant assets recognizing the pricing error to correct it). >1.If Microsoft does not (or cannot) buy back the >option shares, they dilute the stock, and this >has a material effect on existing stockholders. Yes, certainly. But the effect shrinks the earnings per shareholder; it can never make them negative. >2.If Microsoft does buy back the option shares, >then the cash used to perform the buy back has to >come from *somewhere*, and this also has >material effect on existing stockholders. It's the same amount of dilution as in 1. This way, though, the shares are for a smaller company than in 1. The company is giving up part of its assets to remove some of its owners, just like what happens when partner leave partnerships. It's a change in capital, not an expense as Parrish claims. >And I think there have to be far more sensible >ways to estimate the likely value of the option, >or at least its possible effect on shareholders. >One way would be to use the company's historical >data: how much was an option of$X over the
>market price really worth in the past?

This one *can't* work. If this was an accurate predictor, it would also by definition predict the future share price. If that were true, people would borrow to buy the stock until the price today was smaller than that future price by only the interest rate. Since this hasn't happened, the predictor can't be reliable.

Now you make me take off the economist hat, and reach for my statistician's hat :)

>Another way would be to use "normative" data over
>a market sector: in the software services sector,
>what is the current value of an option of $X over >the market price? The problems with those >methods, however, are clear: the past history >might not be relevant, or there may be no history >at all There are a variety of ways to do this, but they come down to weighted averages of the potential future gains, with zero value for all values with the stock below the exercise price. There's a lot of literature on this in both econ and finance. The problem comes from agreeing on the relative probabilities and finding the comparison stocks. Before using this, you'd need to be convinced that you have created a system *less* prone to manipulation than the current system--and that's going to be a very hard sell (who chooses?). And even with this, you're still talking about a rearrangement or redemption of capital, not a true loss. It still all comes down to dilution, and giving up capital to avoid the dilution. None of this should be read as meaning that the undiluted earnings per share figure has any meaning. The inclusion of diluted earnings in a footnote is certainly a first step. But whatever the solution is, I don't think it involves treating the options as some type of expense rather than a capital issue; any such solution would be more misleading than the current version, where at least the true data exists. • Bill Parish Responds on Microsoft Fraud Study (Score:1) On Monday slashdot.org posted my study regarding the significant financial fraud now occurring at the Microsoft Corporation. Since then I have received many thoughtful comments on how I might improve the quality of both the message delivery and the message itself. You have a fine community and I sincerely appreciate the feedback. I will post an update but for now try to address the three most common comments: 1) You have no hard facts. Do access the spreadsheet and review the numbers and assumptions. These are right off the SEC Edgar database 10K (annual) and 10Q (quarterly)reports. I will include a q and a that shows exactly how to recompute the tax deduction Microsoft is taking. Most top CPA's and money managers do not understand this and frankly I have often been asked how in the world I figured this whole thing out. My hope is that when you read the q and a you will be more qualified than them to speak on this issue, whether you are a programmer or a gardner. 2) You say "I" so much and sound egotistical and arrogant. The truth is that I am more support oriented and have no need to stroke my ego. A common comment I have received from those who have seen my report over the last year is an intense frustration at all the various media stories done off its contents yet no attribution. Top reporters say things like, keep it coming Bill, yet they never provide any credit. This credit is not wanted for my ego but rather to help others get to the source. As you all know, Microsoft is a master at distorting other peoples work. Some might use the word corrupting. Imagine also how I feel as an investment advisor, seeing teachers and many seniors sucked into the pyramid each week. 3) Edit more. Will do. 4) Personal insults. It is surprisingly easy to see the dishonest Microsoft advocates in the forums. They always start with a personal attack and then deviate into cryptic comments regarding "dillution." The viciousness is sad and I might suggest to slashdot.org that you eliminate all comments that insult others. Maintaining civility in the discussions could be a key thing distinguishing you from other internet based forums. 4) What do you know about Linux. While having a black and tan beer last night I was thinking about that name slashdot and it finally hit me. It's been more than 10 years since I used Unix, a Sun version which had some great features for file transfers, etc. I might an ideal person to help you elevate your effort. Some of you might consider trying to pull me into your group via a speaking opportunity at a convention, etc. This might provide an opportunity for me to provide some thoughts on the technology related matters in addition discussing my study and the implications and opportunities it poses for other technology firms. Your well thought criticism are very very much apprecaited. Thanks again and you might listen to the Jeff Rense interview for a little more background on the fraud issue at Microsoft, a link to which is available on my site. Sincerely, Bill Parish www.billparish.com • Re:Writing Puts is not the same as Buying puts (Score:1) Oops, you are absolutely correct! Though I have haven't heard of the buying pressure of an exercised put as a hedge, the proceeds retained from the option premium is definitely a hedge. Thanks for the correction! -- PanDuh! • Re:Not really... (Score:1) I disagree, mainly for the large amounts of cash involved. Interesting. You seem to be saying that the amount of cash involved is relevant to whether the action is legal/ethical/misleading. I don't think so, but everyone has a right to his point of view, of course... M$ had basically lied, saying they are making 30-50% profit margins when they are not.

Er.. No. Microsoft has followed and is following legal, acceptable and very widespread accounting practices. You may question whether these accounting practices are helpful to make reasonable investment decisions, but it is a complaint targeted at FASB, not Microsoft. And I am yet to see anything that Microsoft does with regards to stock options that Intel, Cisco, Amazon, eBay, etc. etc. do not.

Everybody here knows that the only value that M$has in on paper. ... snip ... They have "nothing" of real value. Funny, you seem to believe that information (such as source code, for example) has no value. Do only physical things have real value to you? A brick is large and heavy, it has value, while some source code, or, say, a good relationship with a supplier, is ephemeral and not valuable at all -- right? By the way, if you belive all you wrote, go and short Microsoft stock. If you are correct, you will make a lot of money. Kaa • Re:Not really... (Score:1) Your argument is not strengthened by 'bookending' it with these baseless suppositions that the author has a personal agenda for his statements. In fact, it is greatly weakened by such tactics. This is referred to 'addressing the argument to the man' and is one of a number of common logical fallacies used in arguments that attempt to discredit the person whom you disagree with or credit yourself with higher authority. By trying to suggest that the author is motivated by something other than the truth, you attempt to lend more credence to your own, supposedly objective, determinations and cast doubt on his claims. Hey, man, lighten up a bit, willya? Go smoke some good grass, or get laid, or do whatever makes you more relaxed. You may have not noticed, but the point of posting to Slashdot is entertainment, not dry and scholarly discussions of matters of great importance. If I were writing an academic paper, I would use different language and different arguments, but this is Slashdot. What's a post without a bit of flamage (that's ad hominem attacks to you)! And I think I was very polite -- I didn't call Bill Parish an asshole, a kook, a raving lunatic, a nazi and all other cute things that are the base of the Usenet and Slashdot lexicon. So, like, chill it, man. Kaa • Sometimes people say stuff just to be heard (Score:1) When people make "announcements" like this, I can't help but wonder about their motives. Until today nobody had heard of Bill Parish. Now he's been slashdotted. As the saying goes: there's no such thing as bad publicity. Disclaimer: Although I am a Microsoft employee, my opinions should not be construed as those of my employer. • Re:FASB Disagreements (Score:1) "Microsoft does buy the shares to fill the options on the open market, so they are better than companies that use treasury stock to give to employees who exercise their options. Their fotnotes are good and are not misleading about the amount of options outstanding and the exposure that Microsoft shareholders face." I disagree. If you actually check Microsoft's financial statements for the last three years, you'll see essentially the same footnotes stating that their option repurchase program is drastically underfunded, but claiming that they plan to accelerate it to catch up. Year after year, but they never do what they promise, and the repurchase program falls further behind each year. How did you miss that? Your point is true, but doesn't negate mine. I only said that Microsoft was better than the ones that issued treasury shares. Those are the ones who truly water their stock (legally) to pay off their options. It is true that MSFT has not fully funded their option program, but that appears to be part of the problem that MSFT is having with the SEC and complaints about managed earnings. MSFT is a long way from perfect, but they are not the worst of the lot, either. • Re:YACT [Yet Another Conspiracy Theory] (Score:1) if !(agree) { if strcmp(context, 'Pro-Open Source') cout communismAccusation else if strcmp(context, 'Pro-Mac') cout justAnArtistDontUnderstand else if strcmp(context, 'Pro-Amiga') cout getOutOfTheDarkAges else if goodDay cout idiot else cout asshole _________________ Is is just me or are the micorsoft employees err... I mean AC's being unsually active today??? • True in theory, questionable in practice (Score:1) In theory, you are right. The problem is that in practice stocks, particularly tech stocks, almost always experience a surge in value around a split. The basic effect seems to be that people _dont_ do the math, and instead often buy based on 'market perception' and comfort zone - ie 'other techs are at 50, so microsoft should be at least 75'. • Re:Not really... (Score:1) This guy seems to really hate Microsoft... Odd, the article I read re-iterated several times that the author was a great admirer of the people who work at Microsoft, from engineers to officers. snipping the actual relevant portion This is a good rebuttal. Not sure how valid it is, not really grasping the economics involved, but it attends to the facts. I suspect that Bill Parish at some point in the past shorted Microsoft stock (or didn't buy it, buying instead something else) and is now very very bitter about it... And here you do it again. Your argument is not strengthened by 'bookending' it with these baseless suppositions that the author has a personal agenda for his statements. In fact, it is greatly weakened by such tactics. This is referred to 'addressing the argument to the man' and is one of a number of common logical fallacies used in arguments that attempt to discredit the person whom you disagree with or credit yourself with higher authority. By trying to suggest that the author is motivated by something other than the truth, you attempt to lend more credence to your own, supposedly objective, determinations and cast doubt on his claims. To people like myself, who recognize such tactics, it has the opposite effect. Without a clear knowledge of the subject matter, I am less likely to believe your claims, due to your attempt to manipulate me into believing your are more honest than your opponent. In the future, I would avoid such attempts. Eric Christian Berg • Re:Sometimes the crackpots are right (Score:1) >This isn't baseball, you don't have to worry about things like point-shaving... if companies selling their own derivatives bothers you, don't buy them -- no company in their right mind would "take a dive" to make money off their own derivatives I'm not sure I agree with this. Companies don't have minds, right or otherwise. Officers of companies have minds, and it's not hard to imagine unscrupulous officers manipulating stock prices in ways that benefit them but not their stockholders. It's not even hard to imagine them getting away with it; corporate officers have gotten away with worse things quite a few times. • Damn straight! (Score:2) Conspiracy theorists are, of course, free to conclude that putting MS on the DJ was a move to interfere with the DoJ case, since any hard hit on the price of MS stocks will have a very visible effect on the DJ average, after which the defense will cry "Our society can't afford a negative judgement!" Damn straight! I don't know who is technically in charge of such decisions, but anybody who doesn't believe Microsoft was leaning on the decision as hard as they could... well, believing that MS is oblivious of this sort of thing, unwilling to use it as a weapon, or concerned with the larger issue of society and the markets as a whole, is not 'sensible' or 'levelheaded', but just 'stupid'. OF COURSE that's the idea behind it. MS is now (if I am not mistaken, and I might be) on EVERY major index. Their collapse would _slam_ the economy of the entire world. That's just obvious- where has it become a conspiracy theory to suggest that MS has a stranglehold on the entire US economy, an argument which they themselves have darkly hinted at in their court cases? It's a no-brainer. It would be really stupid to believe this would have no effect on the independence of the markets. Now, when you start asking if this is a _good_ thing, then you can get into arguments. Personally, I think it's extortion- I don't think it is a good thing to hand over control of the economy to a vapor business. MS is that business, and I think it's a particularly bad move to try and have them represented in every index and tie their influence to every nook and corner of the stock market. I'm not even a big fan of the stock market- seems not very productive to me- but even so, this is just not fair. For people who do want to play investor and try to make money just by figuring out who's winning and losing (without actually doing any real work or producing anything), it's absolutely necessary for those people to have somewhere to jump if, say, MS tanks. Which will happen, even the Roman Empire fell- and if MS is ubitiquous, that means that in the peculiar world of the stock market, everybody loses and there is nowhere to turn. If they were just representing the NASDAQ and left the Dow alone, people could dump NASDAQ and jump to the Dow and the economy would rock violently without necessarily collapsing. If MS becomes synonymous with the economy- well, we're already looking at Great Depression-like social statistics for certain age groups, and have been for years. The 80s were a major era for dumping money into retirement funds and making yuppies wealthy while the lower classes got basically hosed. That never changed, and to this day, your average American is hardly in a position to play investor- this whole stock market brouhaha is the toy of the upper class, and the division continues to widen. The lower class (economically) doesn't _have_ money to put into the equation anymore. Well, when the upper economic class is hit, there _is_ no more. _That_ is why those speculating yuppies should be protected, _that_ is why MS's creative accounting and bubble economics must be curtailed. It's like that trickle-down stuff only in a darker twisted form- rather than providing a bounty of wonderfullness for everybody, currently the rich are the only means of _subsistence_ for the poor. Not opportunity, mere survival. It's inequitable, but if you simply hit the rich with, say, a stock market collapse, they will simply tighten their belts, take some losses, and then the economy will really start to _hurt_. Personally, I figure that almost anything is better than that. • Slashdot User Quality (Score:1) by Anonymous Coward How delightful to see that Slashdot readers dislike FUD, no matter who the target. This guys argument consists of dubious conclusions supported by little evidence. Microsoft is a pyramid scheme alright. Like the whole tech economy. While it is true that Microsoft is getting slapped for moving numbers around to smooth earnings, that has been well reported and is not the end of the world. I am very pleased at the comments that have been posted today. As far as I am concerned, anyone who attempts to dismiss the Slashdot readership as a rabid bunch of Linux zelots should be pointed towards this article and our response. • Re:Not really... (Score:2) Er.. No. Microsoft has followed and is following legal, acceptable and very widespread accounting practices. You may question whether these accounting practices are helpful to make reasonable investment decisions, but it is a complaint targeted at FASB, not Microsoft. So it's legal and ethical to report that you earned 2.5 billion when the actually value of the company decreased by the same amount in 3 months? That's why it matters how much money they are doing it with. Lying about having$100 is a lot different than lying about $10 billion, especially when people are relying on that$10 billion to feed and house them after they retire.

Funny, you seem to believe that information (such as source code, for example) has no value.

The source code has value to Microsoft only because they can control its distrubution. They use legal, not logical or natural means to do so.
This is a shaky proposition. It turns out their "profits" are built upon the same shaky ground.

Do only physical things have real value to you?

Personal attacks in logical discussions are flames, and are ignored.
• Re:YACT [Yet Another Conspiracy Theory] (Score:1)

Gee, and that just makes me look oh so intelligent! I the pipes are missing,
and the indenting didn't come through....
sorry!
• American Psy^H^H^H Accountant (Score:1)

Whatever about the truth of his allegations, he comes across as a complete nutter. My favourite
quote:

"It was the look of fear in the presenter's eyes
during a break when I showed her a graph of Microsoft based upon my analysis."

K.
-
• Re:Not really... (Score:2)

Er.. No. Microsoft has followed and is following legal, acceptable and very widespread accounting practices. You may question whether these accounting practices are helpful to make reasonable investment decisions, but it is a complaint targeted at FASB, not Microsoft.

So it's legal and ethical to report that you earned 2.5 billion when the actually value of the company decreased by the same amount in 3 months?

• Why pander to blithering idiots? (Score:2)

If someone is so stupid that they are incapable of understanding the mathematics of
Value = Quantity * Price
or are so ignorant that they do no evaluation of the implications of
Shareholder Equity = Assets - Liabilities
I feel no need to be sensitive to their needs.

People that choose to be this ignorant have no place investing in the stock market.

• Long term government bonds, or
• Index funds
both of which are more suited to the action of those that wish to remain blithering idiots.
• Hidden Agendas? (Score:2)

I have heard arguments like this before. the gist of them is generally that, due to outstanding debt in the form of unvested or vested but not yet cashed stock options (which are not kept on the books), Microsoft is actually losing money. Or, at least, does not have the valuation they would otherwise claim.

Of course these amounts really are kept on the books, they just get fiddled with before they end up as a footnote to the balance sheet. In accordance with law and prevailing accounting methods mind you (doesn't mean it is honest though). So I don't think I would personally go so far as to term it 'fraud' or a 'pyramid scheme' as the author of this piece has done. But he goes farther yet -- claiming that this could result in a complete collapse of the financial markets if it is not dealt with...

The weird thing is, Bill Parish appears to have some credibility on the surface. He mentions talking to the SEC Chairman, Arthur Levitt, and providing information on this to several fund managers. The article itself is well written and cogent.

Intersting notes -- One of the author's suggested 'fixes' is to "Prohibit Microsoft from buying back its own stock, instituting stock splits or selling put contracts and engaging in other hedging activity for 10 years. These are tricks used to manipulate the stock price and have contributed greatly to building the financial pyramid. It might make sense to outlaw this practice all together."

This is unlikely to happen, being as these activities are common among nearly all publicly held companies. But then he goes on to suggest that someone should "Prohibit Microsoft from offering employee stock options or any employee based ownership program for 10 years. The truth is most people go to Microsoft for stock options."

Huh! ***OUTLAW STOCK OPTIONS?*** Even as a one-time thing this would be a precedent that could destroy the high-tech economy we have grown in the last few years!

Of course another author suggested remedy is to "Request to have me as a guest on your talk show, radio station or other media outlet or speak at your convention. You might also send my Web site link to friends and people of influence such as other business leaders, political leaders and journalists, both here in the U.S. and abroad."

I sense several levels of hidden agendas here. Especially considering the harsh tone of the second half of the article. He even accuses Microsoft of 'Money Laundering' in Brazil and 'Corrupting Higher Education'. Such claims tend to marginalize his other arguments by making the Mr. Parish seem looney and fixated in his hatred of Microsoft. This is sad, because there more than a little merit here.

Jack

• everybody is doing it, indeed (Score:2)

Investment professionals understand what "fully diluted" means, but as long as the stock keeps going up in the short term, why should they care? They figure that things will keep going OK, and if the market gets jittery, they can get out fairly quickly (even if that's delusional).

While it has been proposed to change accounting procedures so that these real expenses are accounted for, what may be needed instead is to force investors to make investments for the long term (high taxation of short-term investments would be one approach). I think investment professionals would be a bit more cautious about Microsoft if they had to make a firm commitment even just for a year or two.

Of course, it's not going to happen. To me, it looks like Microsoft (and many other companies) are continuing to do the equivalent of printing money and creating inflation that is accounted for nowhere. I don't see much real value that corresponds to the paper value that is represented by their stock. At some point, there is a good chance that it will all collapse, and I suppose then we will get reforms.

• Re:Lack of Basic Math on Splits (Score:2)

"The nature of buybacks is somewhat questionable; it most certainly amounts to a manipulation of securities pricing."

While I'm not a CFO or economics major, I think that buy backs make complete sense.

If a company is sitting on a huge pile of it's own cash and at the same time feels that it itself is under valued, then why not use the money to in essense invest in themselves? If their stock goes up, and they need to generate cash for facilities, then they could reissue those shares. I think it shows a lot about a company that will go and buy it's own shares, rather than simply investing in other companies.

My two cents.

To believe the authors findings, you have to believe that all financial markets are essentially rigged through simply supply and demand. There is no doubt that the price of Micro$oft stock is driven in no small way through the demand for its shares. Mutual companies and 401K plans etc. do contribute to this continued upward pressure on the stock price. I call this DEMAND. Many stocks move without regard to the underlying financial situation in which the company finds itself. Amazon may not be the best example of this but some of the other internet startups with far less revenue and even shakier business models are prime examples. Witness the drastic pullback in stock prices for companies that fail to meet the hype and things reverse. Any IOMEGA stockholders out there. Take a look at a 3 year stock chart and watch the stock go from 1/4 up to 30 and back down to 3 as the bubble burst. Combined with close attention and regulation from the SEC, stock markets regulate themselves. Our markets and the controls on income reporting and accuracy are the envy of the world. Check out income reporting in some emerging markets to get a feel for how bad it can be. Sorry folks this guy is a nut. Dave NOT a Microsoft shareholder or employee unless mutual funds count ;-) • Links to more info (Score:3) on Monday November 01, 1999 @03:38AM (#1572766) Homepage Microsoft Accused of Mis-using Cash Reserves [go.com] "A lawsuit quietly settled late last year alleges that Microsoft's immense cash reserves were used to manipulate its earnings reports, giving the company the appearance of steadily increasing profits and allowing it to consistently exceed Wall Street projections." SEC Probes Microsoft Accounting [go.com] "Federal authorities are investigating Microsoft Corp.'s, practice of setting aside some of its software revenues and recognizing them later, chief financial officer Greg Maffei said on today." Commentary regarding FASB trying to get stock options factored into financial statements [go.com] "While these represent true legal and accounting vulnerabilities to Microsoft, the company's future is so strong that the long-term picture remains strong." • Blah Blah Blah (Score:2) Somehow this reminds me of the guy that claimed that he could get a lot more ip addresses out of the current IPv4. He showed a lot of figures, mathmatics, and poor writing skills. This article seems to be the same. "Microsoft is bad because it has too much money, sell your stock now" WTF??? Article doesn't show any facts or show proof of facts, just makes assertions and tries to show it's valid by associating itself with prominent figures.. No Dice. Lando • Speculative Indeed (Score:2) The report does indeed seem to include a lot of speculation, and I have not been able to verify all of the facts. Regardless, the types of things that are alleged are done by many companies, for various, often less-than-ethical reasons. The bottom line is usually 'what goes around comes around'. -IF- MS is really crossing the line with regards to how they cook the books, it will catch up with them. 'Creative accounting' is used by most major corporations, Billy G didn't invent it. • Re:Not really... (Score:2) Lying about having$100 is a lot different than lying about $10 billion Maybe to you, not to me. Since you bit.. Stealing$100=Stealing from 1 person roughly a weeks worth of living expenses is much different than stealing $10,000,000,000 roughly 1,923,076 YEARS worth of food. Those are not the same. They use legal, not logical or natural means to do so. >What, pray tell, are "logical" or "natural" means? Besides, what's wrong with legal means? The only reason M$ is worth money is because it is illegal for me to make copies of their software. I don't believe in the purity of the U.S. legal system. If you believe it is infallible, then we have a different argument. Because of our current setup software is valuable only if it can be made scarce, unnatural since it's reproduction cost is very near zero.

Under a more "natural" setup the value of software would be determined by it widespread distrubution and overall utility (support), rather than some legally forced "unnatural" scarcity. Under such a setup the value of said software would be substantially reduced but easier to support economically without the need for questionable accounting. This is a different notion for determining the value of software, but you asked, so..:)

I was just commenting on your strange observation that Microsoft has [n]o valuable assets.

They are currently valuable but on an unstable foundation. Much of that value is tied up in employees (paying their own salaries from future stock earnings) which can leave the company and take their own "intellectual property" with them.
• Re:Even if their stock went to 0 tomorrow... (Score:2)

If Microsofts stock went to 0 tomorrow, that'd have a lot more ramification than 75 points off the DOW. It would quite literally crush the entire tech industry. Monopoly or not, they're the biggest player in the markets today. If they sink, so do we...
• It's all a matter of viewpoint. (Score:2)

If you look at the same facts in different ways, you can often get quite differering views. Consider this hypothetical situation of an employee of a company Options Unlimited: whose options vest after one year.

1990: Employee A Joins and is granted 100 options at current prices of $10. Company buys back 100x$10 shares.
1991: Employee A is granted 100 options at current prices of $15. Company buys back 100x$15 shares. Employee also excercises 1990 options at $10 1992: Employee A excercises 1991 options at$15 (current value $25) and leaves company. Article viewpoint Look at the year 1991 - Company bought 100 shares at$15 and sold 100 shares to A at $10. Wow - look at that$500 loss!

Company cost viewpoint
Cost: (1990) 100 x $10, (1991) 100 x$15 buybacks = $2500 Received: (1991) 100 x$10, (1992) 100 x $15 exercised =$2500
Nett cost to company = $0 Employee benefit viewpoint Cost: (1991) 100 x$10, (1992) 100 x $15 exercise =$2500
Recieved: (1991) 100 x $15, (1991) 100 x$25 = $4000 Nett gain to employee =$1500

balance sheet progression
Beginning 1992: Contains 100 x stock worth $25, cash$0 (total $2500) End 1992: contains stock$0, cash $1500 (total$1500)
Change over year $1000. (which is the same as the employee made on options over the year. Summary Options, are just that, options, and accounting for them is difficult. How do you value the 100 shares that are earmarked for employee A? at strike price? at market price? If the employee exercises them, the balance sheet value will fall, so that might suggest the strike price. However, until the options are exercised, they are still owned by the company, so the market price would seem more accurate. I think the point that is interesting is that options are currently in the balance sheet at market price, so there is potentially a unrealised decrease in the balance sheet bottom line. If, for example, the stock price started to fall or flatten, the following might happen: A) A lot of people might start to exercise their vestible options, resulting in balance sheet decrease. B) A flatter stock would result in people wanting higher salarys, as options aren't as attractive, resulting in higher costs, lower profits, lower stock price, and repeat. IMO, any stock that has a lot of options must keep growing, or it has the potential to start the downward spiral shown above, and if that sprial really started, it would be damn near impossible to stop -- • Economist: Fraudulent Fraud Claim (Score:2) \begin{\economics professor} His claim of fraud is, in itself, fraudulent (or incompetent). His claims seem to come primarily from the notion that microsoft sees a cost when stock options are exercised. Take a step back, and think about this. 1) the existence of large number of options understates the potential number of shares. This is true--if there are 100 shares and 200 stock options, 1 real share represents not 1%, but 1/3% of the company. Thus the earnings per share are overstated. This is what the "footnote" business is: the "diluted" earnings, spreading earnings out over potential shares rather than actual shares, only occur in footnotes. The result is indeed that earnings *per share* are lower than reported. It does *not* affect total earnings. 2) The "debt" from these. Here is where this turns into nonsense. Many companies, including microsoft, do indeed buy back the shares when employees excercise options, in order to keep the total number of shares outstanding stable. But they have *NO* obligation to do so. Microsoft could simply allow more shares to exist. Done. No cost to Microsoft. So why doesn't microsoft do this? Again, step back a moment. *If* the number of shares increases, the price drops. If you triple the number of shares due to options, the price will fall to (roughly) one third of its previous level. By buying back the stock, each share claims a larger portion of microsoft, and is thus worth more. Investors prefer this, and thus corporations do it. If we assume, though, that a corporation *will* buy back the stock, it may make some sense to include that future cost (after discounting) to the business in some way (there are a number of ways to do this). However, to do so, we have to estimate or know the future price of the stock. If we knew this with certainty, this would also be the current price (less the interest in the mean time). And the important thing about options is that they are issued at *more* than the current price. If the current price is ten, the corporation might issue options to buy at a price of twelve. This would show each option as an *asset* rather than a liability (which, of course, is also nonsense). The fundamental failure here is that the options are not so much transactions between employees and ms, but between employees and the current shareholders--a chance to become shareholders. This doesn't actually affect ms at all; it's a question of who owns ms. [though there is an effect in the wages--owners can be paid a lower wage than non-owners, just like any other business]. Bottom line: profit or loss is revenue less costs. Changing who owns the additional shares does not change the total profit, but merely the number of people splitting it. 3) Let's grant the division by zero, and assume that he really can predict future share price. Deduct what employees pay to exercise the options from the future share price that ms pays to clear them, and we get the cost to microsoft (more accurately: the transfer among owners of the various assets). Oops, there's the problem: as more of these shares issue, the price drops. If microsoft has options outstanding for twice as many shares as the current share base, the proper share price to consider now is the price that would occur *if* the shares were exercised. That is, the price that would occur if the employees *kept* the shares after exercising the options. The more shares on the market, the lower the price for buy-back. Even if you grant the economically dubious assumption that the market price can be manipulated for small amounts of options (change is close to zero for a small number of extras), you have to assume that not only every shareholder of ms is a complete idiot, but that every other potential investor in the world is as well. Yes, the footnotes may "fool" some ("it's only a 3% error" may fly) for small amounts of options, but to assume that the same happens when the employees hold huge portions is silly. Bottom line: to make the costs add up to enough to create a loss instead of profit would require the share price to stay up in the face of massive actual dilution, which wouldn't happen. Microsoft would buy back the shares at much lower prices in face of the dilution. While I'm at it: the list of folks that agree with him set's off my b.s. baffle . . . But the most important line is: >6) Request to have me as a guest on your talk >show, radio station or other media outlet or >speak at your convention. There we go: make me rich and famous. Bottom bottom line: the claims of "fraud" are primarily arguments with existing accounting practice, some of which use the equivalent of division by zero to reach their conclusions. The author has a lot to gain, however, should not be dismissed. By the "unorthodox" definition (to be charitabl) of fraud used here, the claims themselve are fradulent. [Note: I'm not arguing that ms stock isn't a price bubble. I believe so, but not for the non-reasons in this article.] • Food for thought (Score:2) Lets follow the logic... stock market runs on PCs most PCs run windows MS stock grows coincidence? i think not. • Kook city (Score:2) The "analysis" has all the hallmarks of a kook. • Tons of talking about what his analysis shows, without actually showing the analysis • Rampant paranoia (Microsoft is going to sue me, they're keeping me out of the legit media, etc) • Tons of self-promotion (put me on your talk show, I did this and I did that) • Pie charts, the tool of Ross Perot :-) Even if I could find any facts on this page to back up his outrageous claims (and I can't, all I can find is him saying over and over again that he has these facts), I still wouldn't believe him. • Re:Slashdot is scared of M$ too (Score:2)

Maybe Roblimo wasn't sure if this story was accurate, and didn't want to look like an idiot by endorsing an idiot.
• Amazing that Index Funds Work... (Score:2)

I went through the portfolio theory literature that resulted in the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics [nobel.se] 'way back when.

While Portfolio Theory provided quite unsurprising results, the way that Black/Scholes provides differential equations that usefully analyse what was thought of as statistical matters was pretty amazing, and has helped employ a surprising number of theoretical physicists in finance.

I would put index funds at the top of my list of "investments to consider" simply based on Harry Markowitz's 1952 Journal of Finance paper, Portfolio Selection. He didn't anticipate index funds yet at that time, but they're a pretty ideal representation of his construction of "efficient frontiers" and "optimal portfolios." (And I had his paper quite specifically in mind when I used the words "efficient" and "portfolio" in the same sentence...)

For the "compleat idiot," an excellent book on investing is A Random Walk Down Wall Street; it provides a reasonably friendly walk through modern finance theory, and happens to rank index funds fairly highly for use by "nonprofessional investors."

I like the idea of starting with a portfolio that's largely index funds, and gradually adding to that a reasonably diverse stock portfolio, as that allows avoiding the administration fees that mutual funds (of whatever variety) charge; that of course requires taking Buffet's position of "buying stock in order to hold it indefinitely."

• FASB Disagreements (Score:2)

Read the entire financial statement of any company before you invest. If you do, you will find in the footnotes the exposure the company faces. The Finacial Accounting Standards Board wanted more, but were persuaded to live with clear disclosure in the footnotes.

Yes, options can dilute the value of your stock. No, options are not being accounted for in the P&L because they don't really fit there. No, options are not very well accounted for in the balance sheet either, but every solution that has been tried has a serious problem.

Microsoft does buy the shares to fill the options on the open market, so they are better than companies that use treasury stock to give to employees who exercise their options. Their footnotes are good and are not misleading about the amount of options outstanding and the exposure that Microsoft shareholders face. Critics of options have no problem identifying the exposure because it is well documented in the footnotes. If you cannot or do not read and understand a financial statement, ask someone to help you or find a different investment vehicle.

• Not really... (Score:4)

on Monday November 01, 1999 @03:47AM (#1572803) Homepage
This guy seems to really hate Microsoft...

But what he basically claims is that in Microsoft accounting (and specifically, in stating the earnings) the overhang of the existing stock options is not being considered. That's true. However, that's true for every company in the US that has issued stock options. This issue has been discussed by FASB (accounting standards setting body) several times and after quite animated debate, the existing situation -- that the companies are not obliged to put the outstanding stock options into their profit-and-loss statement -- was left to stand as it is now.

Basically, the situation is like this. Company X issues a stock option to employee Y at, say, $10/share. Let's say a year passed and the stock of company X is now trading at$100. You *can* say that the company sustained a $90 unrealized loss (I am ignoring the time value of money for simplicity) and that's exactly what Parish is saying. However, in the real world if the option gets cashed in, the company will not go onto the open market, buy a share for$100 and give it to the employee in exchange for $10. The company will just issue more stock. Of course, this is not a painless procedure. The more stock is issued, the more the value of the existing shares is diluted (or "watered down"). If the company has 100 shares outstanding, each share was worth 1% of the company. If 100 more shares are issued, all shares will now be worth only 0.5% of the company, so the previous share owners clearly become worse off. And that's exactly why the earning figures released generally show two numbers: one for outstanding shares (those that have been issued and are not treasury stock), and one on a fully diluted basis, which assumes that all stock options are turned into shares. It is quite misleading to say that this is a big scam that nobody knows about. Any investment professional understands what "fully diluted" means and that Microsoft does have a huge number of stock options outstanding. That hasn't stopped them from buying Microsoft shares in huge amounts. Maybe the guy has a point in that the gullible public should be made more aware of the problem (and I freely concede that this *is* a problem: only not limited to Microsoft, not having such huge importance, and not likely to lead to the financial meltdown of the free world). But financial professionals know the situation quite well. And the measures that he proposes against Microsoft are quite ridiculous. I suspect that Bill Parish at some point in the past shorted Microsoft stock (or didn't buy it, buying instead something else) and is now very very bitter about it... Kaa • This is just corporate accounting (Score:3) on Monday November 01, 1999 @03:49AM (#1572806) This is how the corporate accounting rules work. They don't make any sense. There is a push to make stock option gains come on the company expense reports. It will probably happen. However, until then, Microsoft is following standard accounting rules. However, as usual, Microsoft is doing a few shady things to exploit the system more than usual. Every tech company has HUGE stock options, the difference is the Microsoft plays more games then the rest. Stocks are screwy anyway. According to economic theory, a stock's price = present value(future dividends), when in reality, there are no dividends because the tax structure makes capital gains taxed less. As a result, all earnings are returned and reinvested, making the company more valuable. However, because of the lack of dividends, the stock market has these problems. Placing dividend income at (or below) the capital gains rate would fix the problems. It would force dividends to be paid giving stocks real values. Sure they would be based upon future earnings, but those earnings would start to come on established companies like Microsoft. Also, if cash on hand went to paying dividends, large companies wouldn't have nearly infinite revenue. Basically, profits go to the owners. However, by a shell game, instead of going to the owner, they are used to buy other companies, which increases the share price the amount that the dividend should (in theory). This encourages the merger mania sweeping this country. A large, wealthy company with huge profits has 3 options: 1) Pay dividends 2) Buy companies 3) Pay dividends with stock buy backs Dividends are out of the question for tax reasons. Three can cause trouble if it looks like you are paying a dividend (i.e., if Microsoft made %3 percent of it's share price in profits, they buy back 3% of the stock, which means that everyone's stock goes up that value, this continues until their are very few stock holders because the rest sold them back), however, this can cause suspicion as tax fraud. The resulting option is buying companies (or building internal divisions). Either way, a large company is forced to grow beyond it's optimal size, because real profits are out of the question. Of course, if it grows beyond its means, diminishing returns kick in, growth drops, and the stock collapses... What a way to run an economy. We need tax AND accounting reform. Alex • Re:Slashdot is scared of M$ too (Score:2)

An article here [theregister.co.uk] at the Register notes how several publications 'fell for' a Dixons rip-off story (where it was claimed that Dixons were ripping consumers off), following allegations by Intel employee Craig Barrett. All of them had to apologise, after the Office of Fair Trading found that the allegations were false. Its sensible of the Slashdot people not to comment on it, in case the same happens.

A publication should not officially comment on something that may turn out to be false, because it can backfire nastily (libel?) and can cause damage to journalistic reputation.

As Slashdot subscribers, we don't have to worry about the latter problem, but I wonder if one day someone is going to libel somebody about a post made on Slashdot.

stock prices do go up following a split.
you can't deny that the jump is predictable and real.

Can you provide a reference to a statistically validated study to support this claim? All splits on the NYSE are reported; it should be simple enough to do a study of the price increases resulting for all the splits over the last ten years. I'd expect to see such results in some place like the Journal of Finance; it would doubtless be a feather in the cap of someone wishing to overturn the Efficient Market Hypothesis.

If your claim were true, then even the weak form of the Efficient Market Hypothesis [investorhome.com] would be false.

However, those that actually study such things (as opposed to those that are out to sell you their Technical Analysis Newsletter) find things like the following:

"Elaborate tests of the correlation of successive prices, runs, and filter rules find some weak relationships, but they are not sufficient to generate trading profits after taking account of transactions costs."
- Graham and Dodd's Security Analysis

It seems entirely more likely that if stock prices continue to rise after a split, this results not from the split itself, but rather for whatever reasons there were for the stock to rise in price before, perhaps because the enterprise is continuing to reap unexpectedly high profits.

• Everyone else does it too... (Score:2)

'Creative accounting' is used by most major corporations, Billy G didn't invent it.
Quite true. The essential claim in the report is that the widespread use of stock options to compensate employees turns things into something of a "pyramid scheme."

Other articles claiming the same have come along from more credible sources. Of course, if MSFT is "guilty" of "pyramiding," there are also a whole lot of other companies that are also guilty, particularly with the ludicrously highly valued activities that fall out of corporate mergers.

If "everyone else is guilty too," this undercuts this article's claims somewhat, as it implies that if MSFT is overvalued, then many other securities are similarly overvalued.

Which doesn't make Microsoft any righter, but does suggest that they're just a convenient "whipping boy" for someone's political concerns.

• This reads like a paranoid rant (Score:3)

on Monday November 01, 1999 @03:52AM (#1572819) Homepage
Hmmm. I used to spend quite a lot of time on sci.skeptic, and maintained the FAQ for a while. This gave me a good opportunity to study "fringe" ideas. This article has a lot in common with them:
• It targets a prominant public figure and alleges that he is at the head of a large scale conspiracy.
• Lack of firm evidence to support his position. I tried to read the spreadsheet, but my copy of Excel would not open it. Nothing else in the article gives me any confidence in his position.
• Various out-of-context bits and pieces are made to seem more important than they are. Specifically MS has been accused of manipulating its stock price by reserving money from rich quarters and turning it into profit during poor quarters. But this can only smooth out lumps and bumps, not maintain a long-term growth curve.
• Lots of references are made to people who don't believe the author, along with elaborate justifications for this. No doubt Alan Greenspan is snowed under by letters from crackpot economists and conspiracy nuts. This guy looks just like another one. Ditto the fund managers and newspaper editors. They know what a price support operation looks like, and this isn't it.
• Discussions of how courageous the author is being in revealing this truth.
• Predictions of apocolypse RSN.
I think MS is overvalued, but I very much doubt that the situation is this bad.

Paul.

• Re:stock markets are so much fun! (Score:2)

> Its hard to manuplate the Dow based on the choice of firms you put in.

Thanks for your post, because you told me something I didn't know. However, I still contend that it's manipulation. For example, CNN just reported that the 4 companies that came in had a 600+% growth rate over the past 5 years, whereas the 4 taken out had only a 60% growth rate over the same period. And the Dow has already raised its prediction for the end-of-year average.

Clearly, they've manipulated it to make it look better.

--
It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
• Re:stock markets are so much fun! (Score:2)

> Anything to keep those meaningless values from tanking!

And the Dow just switched out some traditional companies to make room for some active tech stocks. I have long thought that the fact that the DJ is an average makes it susceptible to artificial manipulation, to make it look like things are going better than they are. I think I now have an example to cite.

Best would be if they only swapped one new company in per year or so, rather than the four at a time like they just did.

Better yet if they had avoided swapping in Micorsoft, which is allegedly under investigation by the SEC for using a fraudulent/illegal cookie-jar scheme to inflate its stock values.

Conspiracy theorists are, of course, free to conclude that putting MS on the DJ was a move to interfere with the DoJ case, since any hard hit on the price of MS stocks will have a very visible effect on the DJ average, after which the defense will cry "Our society can't afford a negative judgement!"

--
It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
• Smoke and fire (Score:2)

"Kook" is too strong, and "idealogue" not strong enough. I think it is fair to say that this guy is more concerned and hyperbolic than most commentators, but I have read a number of stories from reputable sources (NPR, The Economist) that indicate that MS has had actual losses due to both time shuffling of earnings and the lamentable fact that no one (not just MS) has to report stock options as a debt.

In other words (and remember, not only am I not an accountant nor a lawyer, but I'm barely fluent in basic economics, so this is definitely a media created impression, not knowledgeable reportage), it may well be that MS has had multi-million dollar losses in the last few years. So have many companies that continue to have high stock prices and good long-term prospects.

I would very much like to see a change in the law requiring that stock options be included in financial reports as debts, because THEY REALLY ARE DEBT. The reason that I think the banking and SEC big-wigs are not all bent out of shape over this is NOT that MS is buying their silence, but rather that this has become a pervasive practice and changing radically and suddenly would probably have catastrophic consequences.

I would expect to see this practice regulated increasingly over time.

What I do not know is if this practice, if added up across the market, really amounts to a dangerous bubble. That would be an interesting question. The danger would depend on the ratio of vested, unredeemed stock options to the market cap of the company all weighed against earnings. If the P/E ratio is already out of whack and the percentage of options in total market cap is high, well, that would have to be risky, wouldn't it?

I guess I'd side with this gadfly to the extent that I think we should agitate for tighter regulation of the accounting practices that allow the "shadow debt" of options, and for greater disclosure.

Beyond that, I'd like to hear from several other experts and economists. This guy's story is interesting, but long on conclusions and short on data.
• Running a business in America (Score:2)

I believe that the author of this piece fully believes in what he writes about. It is unfortunate that he didn't include any of his actual analysis in the article, but then again, how many of us really want to look at all of the math involved? Well, OK, I do, but I've got a degree in Accounting, so I like that stuff.

I see some comments on Slashdot saying that what is mentioned in the article is just standard business practice. That is partly true. As the accounting rules currently stand, companies are allowed to play some minor games with their earnings statements. Examples of these include how inventory is valued, and how you account for orders at year end that you don't ship out until the next year. Probably the most flagrant of these is the "pooling of interests" that companies are allowed to use in mergers so that overpaying for a company doesn't hit you as a real expense. Thankfully that goes away at the end of next year.

However, the author of the piece makes it impossible to really see the extent to which Microsoft just has smart accountants and finance folks playing the game legally, and to what extent those smart folks are "cooking the books." You just have to realize that corporate accounting is really more art than science, and you do what you can within the law to look as good as you can. If I was an investor in MS (which I'm not), I wouldn't be worried by the author's comments. In fact, MS should go up in the next few days as all Dow index funds (not that there are that many of them) have to buy the stock to stay current with the index.
• Re:stock markets are so much fun! (Score:2)

And yet, people still think that stock markets are a great way for society to decide how to invest it's time and resources.

They have worked much better than any alternative system that I know of... Or are you claiming that the government allocation of resources works better?

It's not democratic, and it's very obviously not even pragmatic.

It was never supposed to be democratic (in the one person -- one vote sense). You don't decide where the society will invest its capital -- all you do is buy pieces of companies that you like. The rest works out by itself. Read Adam Smith -- he understood how this works a while ago.

As to being pragmatic -- I take it that you know better than everybody what is pragmatic and what is not, right?

A casino in which the more money you have, the more likely you are to win.

A casino, maybe. If you buy and sell stocks randomly, it is mostly luck that determines what you'll get at the end. I don't see, though, why the more money you have the more likely you are to win. Let's say that I buy 1 share of Microsoft. The odds of the Microsoft stock going up are exactly the same for me and for Bill Gates.

Kaa
• Re:Slashdot is scared of M$too (Score:3) on Monday November 01, 1999 @04:06AM (#1572856) I think Robin included that comment more as a reminder that just because Slashdot posts a link to a story doean't mean that they are endorsing it as the truth. Given all of the zealotry on Slashdot this seems like a very reasonable thing to do. Your *job* (should you choose to accept it:) would be to read the article and form your own opinion. I'll agree that many stories do include a tounge-in-cheek comment with an anti-MS slant, but I've never taken them as an official Slashdot opinion, more as the posters attempt to be sly. Anyways... I wonder how many people own MS stock and don't even know it. MS stock has been very popular with mutual fund managers (with good reason) for years. I'm just cynical enough to believe that big companies, MS included, will try to get away with whatever they can. This sort of thing (if it's true) probably goes on more than we want to believe. The truth is, I'm sad to admit, I just don't have the time or the energy to really care. • YACT [Yet Another Conspiracy Theory] (Score:2) > If MS stock were to deflate to it's normal value, I'd strongly worry about a deflation of stocks across the board, as the start of the pending 'diaster' that may hit the market. That may be the plan. Let the bubble burst, have the uninformed/misled masses sell off cheap, then let the pros move in and buy cheap and sit back and wait for the market to climb back up to 10K within a year or so. The stock market is, IMO, just a machine for pumping money out of amateurs' pockets and into the pros' pockets. For everyone who gets bit by buying high and selling low, someone else rakes it in by buying low and selling high. -- It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh? • figures (Score:2) This seems to have a touch of scare in it, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it were true. It's funny that all the charts are in MS Excel. • The one true pyramid (Score:2) Sure M$ is a pyramid scheme as are virtually all tech stocks. Technology actually works in such a way. Why do you think Moore's law works? Will it eventually crash? Doubtlessly but not in the way economists imagine. Before technology can crash in any big way we must have enough technology built up to deflate the cash behind the technology. At this point we should flip over into a gift culture completely as the economics behind technology are crashed. It isn't exactly a bad thing but just a change and changes can hurt even if they are healthy. Now maybe it's true M$is carrying the whole thing a little to far. It does worry me a little having so many eggs in one shakey basket. I keep watching their spin.. so forward a few years ago but now begining to slow and wobble towards reverse. The people I really pity are their employees that work 50 hour weeks and take it all as stock expecting it to pay for their retirement and childrens education and such. If that bubble bursts they'll be the ones hurt the most. I for one would never put all my investments in any one product. It just isn't smart. :) • The$9B Tax Deducation (Score:2)

> This might explain why reporters are afraid to
> print the facts, for instance that Microsoft
• Even if their stock went to 0 tomorrow... (Score:2)

...that's still only, what, 75 or so points off the Dow? Nowadays, a loss of 75 is hardly news. Nobody would care if they base their buy/sell decisions solely on the level of the DJIA.

- A.P.
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